William Jennings Bryan and the Silver Dog

Pueblo Lith. Co., THE SILVER DOG WITH THE GOLDEN TAIL. Will the Tail Wag the Dog, or the Dog Wag the Tail? Pueblo: Nuckolls Packing Co., [1896?]
Lithograph on a 8 1/8”h x 10 ½”w sheet, hand colored in gold and silver. About excellent.

An extremely rare cartographic cartoon supporting William Jennings Bryan’s candidacy in the 1896 presidential election. Bryan’s signature issue was “Free Silver,” a return to silver coinage. He and his supporters argued that the inflationary impact would act

“… as a remedy for the Panic of 1893, a severe depression that had created high unemployment, falling prices and severe pressure on farmers. Free Silver would allow beleaguered farmers and others to repay debts with inflated dollars. Bryan’s famous acceptance speech at the Democratic convention concluded by warning opponents: “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns; you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”” (PJ Mode)

McKinley of course won the election and served until his assassination in 1901. The gold standard was retained in some form until abandoned by President Nixon in 1973.

The Silver Dog with the Golden Tail
Offered here is a very rare and rather deluxe broadside version of a cartoon that first appeared in the September 13, 1896 issue of the Boston Globe. It depicts a rather elongated but tough-looking dog with an outline map of the country superimposed on its body and an “Election” bone in its mouth. The industrialized northeastern states are colored in gold and the largely rural Southern and Western states in silver, representing of course their alleged support for the different currency standards, while the “doubtful” Midwestern states are left white (In fact, several of the purportedly “silver” states went for McKinley in the 1896 election.) Statistics flanking the main image emphasize the overwhelming contribution of the South and West to American agricultural output and their superior strength in the Electoral College (Noticeably absent, naturally, are figures reflecting the vast industrial output of the Northaest.) Thus, in posing the question “Will the tail wag the dog, or the dog wag the tail,” the cartoonist was challenging the viewer to resist the efforts by the northeastern corporate elite to subordinate the rest of the country to their own narrow interests.

While the “Silver Dog with the Golden Tail” image is rather well known today, this version, produced as a promotional by the Nuckolls Packing Company, a meat-packing facility in Pueblo, Colorado, is extraordinarily rare and all-but unrecorded. Such graphics, produced in many variants, are said to have been widely distributed throughout the “silver states” of the American West to promote the Bryan agenda.

Christopher Lane, “Wag the Dog.” Mercator’s World vol. 6 no. 3 (2001), p. 80 (illustrating this Nuckolls Packing Co. variant). Persuasive Maps: PJ Mode Collection, 2053 (lacking the Nuckolls imprint). Not in OCLC.



Old folds flattened, with some mended splits and cracks. Backed with archival tissue.